Contest celebrates the bond between mother and child
Emily Enescu wanted to capture the way she and her first baby quietly and gently bonded.
Camille Medina never had seen herself breast-feeding her son. It was a revelation.
Enescu and Medina are among 52 moms who chose to document a deep maternal connection with their babies by submitting photographs for a Breast-feeding Council of San Joaquin County contest.
The photos - discreetly touching color and black-and-white images that reinforce the council's advocacy for breast-feeding's emotional and physical values - will be displayed Saturday during the county's first-ever Birth, Baby and Bonding Fair at Stockton's Scottish Rite Masonic Center.
The three top photos will be announced.
"It was just spontaneous," said Enescu, 31, of Woodbridge, who took a picture of 19-month-old daughter Gabi and herself with a "point-and-shoot" Canon camera. "We were just cuddled up in bed, you know. I thought, this is the most accurate representation. It's not posed or anything. It's just me in bed with my baby. The camera was just sitting there.
"Such a routine moment captures the bond I share with my child. You learn to treasure each moment. Those moments pass so quickly."
Medina, a 25-year-old Stockton resident, said she was excited to have her pictures taken professionally, a no-charge contest option provided by Stockton's Elaine Begley Photography.
"You know, I was really blown away," Medina said about being shown black-and-white images of her nurturing 13-month-old son Jesus Jr. "It was amazing just to see me breast-feeding my son. I'd never actually seen that. When it comes to actually seeing yourself in a photo, it's just amazing."
Organizers of the event - they call it a "celebration for expectant and new parents" - were just as surprised (and gratified) by the response to their inaugural photo contest. (Half the entries were taken by professionals. Others arrived by iPhone or e-mail.)
The organizers hope Saturday's fair - in both its educational and commercial aspects - creates a similar impression.
"We thought something was missing and wanted to try something new," said Mary Woelfel, 59, coordinator of the county's Public Health Breastfeeding Initiative. "We want to help moms and expectant new moms connect with community resources. We have some fun things and some cute things.
"It's really all about the community. In the past, women learned from the time they were small, asked questions and learned from other moms. Today, a lot of women never have seen a mom breast-feeding until they're in the hospital."
The four-hour event, co-sponsored by four hospitals, four outreach and charitable groups and two county agencies, includes information and merchandise from 23 businesses and 17 community organizations - from hospitals and health plans to the La Leche League and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin.
There'll also be fashion designs for pregnant moms and breast-feeding mothers. Gail Dacayan, a Stockton singer-songwriter and dietitian, performs some "special" material inspired by the event.
"We want to provide support for moms," said Jenny Donaldson, 33, a single Stockton mother who helped organize the fair and has two sons (12 and 14) she breast-fed as babies. "When the time comes and they have challenges, we want to help them work through them, if they choose."
Donaldson, Enescu and Medina can relate to that.
They're working moms who've faced such obstacles.
"You know, the commitment hasn't always been easy," said Enescu, a physical therapist at Stockton's Dameron Hospital and Lodi Memorial Hospital. "Sometimes, it's pretty challenging. I've learned so much about life through this commitment.
"When I made the commitment, I knew I was doing what's best for my child. Even when times are hard and I face some criticisms, I trust myself and know what I'm doing is best for my child. It's good to seek advice and support, though."
That's what members of the Breastfeeding Coalition provide.
"It's absolutely the reason I'm involved," said Donaldson, a Stockton native and St. Mary's High School graduate who works for the Health Education Council in West Sacramento. "I had a very wonderful experience and had minimal problems. The only challenge, 14 years ago, was the environment wasn't always positive. Whenever I was at family events, I had to be very discreet. It just depends on how comfortable you are with breast-feeding.
"The most difficult thing was people asking me, 'When are you going to stop nursing? When are you going to stop weaning that baby?' "
Medina, who breast-fed her first two children (now 2 and 4) intermittently, doesn't get asked that question at Stockton's Delta Health Care WIC (Women, Infants & Children), where she's a receptionist.
"Everyone's very supportive," said Medina, who uses her lunch period and work breaks to express milk for Jesus. "When I'm pumping (breast milk), if I take an extra few minutes, they let me do that. It's been a tremendous help. Thank god I get support from my employer."
Such encouragement - as well as that of fathers, family members and friends - will be among the topics addressed on Saturday.
Though there remains some public resistance to breast-feeding - its health benefits; its duration; nourishing infants in public places; overcoming sexual misconceptions - the National Institutes of Health website says:
"According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement on breast-feeding, women who don't have health problems should exclusively breast-feed their infants for at least the first six months of life. The AAP suggests women try to breast-feed for the first 12 months ... because of the benefits to mother and baby."
Woelfel, a Lodi resident and married mother of two grown children, is pleased with the progress in "baby-friendly hospital practices" that's been made in San Joaquin County - through a "systems-change project" - especially since the Breastfeeding Coalition was established in 1996.
"I feel really proud to be part of this," said Woelfel, who's also active with Lodi's La Leche League for 24 years and teaches prenatal care at Lodi Memorial. "Our six hospitals have made tremendous changes. They're all now in line with the routine of a 'golden hour' after birth. The baby is skin-to-skin with the mom, assuming mom and baby are stable."
Woelfel said 80 percent of mothers begin breast-feeding while in the hospital. Assistance is provided by coalition members and others, especially regarding the role of fathers, labor support and what occurs when breast-feeding moms return to work.
An estimated 14,000 mothers participate in Delta Health Care's programs.
"We've actually sort of been changing the language and saying breast-feeding is the normal way for human babies to be fed," said Woelfel, a University of the Pacific graduate. "Human milk is designed for human babies. Like mommy dolphins feed their babies sulfa milk."
Education and support will be nurturing themes on Saturday.
"My thought is that the majority is going to be people who already are supportive," said Medina, whose husband, Jesus, works at Rancho San Miguel Market on West Lane in Stockton. "It'll be great to meet other moms and have other people say, 'You're doing a great job.' Any bit of encouragement is nice."
"We've never done this before," Woelfel said of the fair and photo contest. "We're excited about it. Moms wanna feel beautiful, too."
Especially while breastfeeding their babies.
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/lensblog.